CHINA> Volunteers
Veteran shoots to fame for disasters relief
By Huang Zhiling and Liu Yuanqi (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-05-12 11:18

Chen Yan has had a lot to handle during the recent run-up to the first anniversary of the earthquake in Wenchuan.

Not only has the hero had to deal with the constant media interest, he has also spent most of his spare time this past month in Hanwang town, a two-hour drive from his home in Chengdu, helping organize a memorial.

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And the 37-year-old is also planning to wed his fiance Peng Lu after the ceremony there today.

"He's full of activity and has no time to buy me dresses for our wedding," complained his wife-to-be.

A native of Suining in Sichuan province, Chen has shot to fame for his amazing relief efforts following several devastating disasters.

As well as being one of the first volunteers to arrive in the badly damaged city of Dujiangyan after the May 12 catastrophe last year, in February 1996, the former armed policeman in the Tibet autonomous region went alone to Lijiang in Yunnan province after a 7.0-magnitute quake rocked the ancient town, and was also was part of a rescue team that saved stranded flood victims in Gong'an county, Hubei province, in the summer of 1998.

Veteran shoots to fame for disasters relief

On the night of the quake in Sichuan last year, he drove dozens of victims in Dujiangyan to stay with their friends and relatives in Chengdu, while from May 13 he worked tirelessly with the National Earthquake Disaster Relief Team to clear rubble at Dongqi High School in Hanwang.

During the 80 hours it took to save 29 students from the wreckage, he slept only five hours.

Chen was hailed a hero and was even dubbed a "daredevil who always arrived in dangerous spots before our members" by one disaster relief team member.

Asked why he had come to the rescue on so many occasions, he replied: "Because I am alive."

Chen, now a sales manager for a distribution firm in Chengdu, met his bride Peng, a 27-year-old hotel receptionist in Mianyang, after pulling her cousin Ma Zhengyi from the ruins of the Dongqi High School almost 30 hours after the quake.

Sadly, Ma died in hospital. However, Peng and Chen fell in love, with the couple originally planning to wed on Sept 9, as the day has the same pronunciation for "everlasting" in Chinese.

"We changed the date to May 12 to let those people who had witnessed the tragedy to see happiness and hope. I also want to tell my wife's cousin in heaven that I will take good care of her," Chen told China Daily.

They have reserved 50 tables, each seating 10 people, for their wedding banquet at a hotel in Deyang.

Their guests will include Xue Xiao, dubbed "Cola Boy" by the media after he told rescuers "I want to have cola, I want an iced one" as he was pulled from the rubble of Dongqi High School.

On their wedding day, Chen will lin up with Peng in her hometown Anchang, in Beichuan county, where they will mourn those killed last year, and also take Dongqi students to revisit the school.

He has tracked down every youngster he helped save during those horrific 80 hours and even invited four - including Xue, who lost a hand in the disaster - to stay with him on weekends at an apartment he bought in Deyang, taking on the role of big brother.

However, Peng said she finds it hard seeing her future husband as a hero.

"He utters dirty words, makes faces and always makes jokes - some of them are inappropriate," she said.

"Once, while having lunch with friends in Chengdu, he called my mother who was playing mahjong and said in jest: 'Gambler, I wish you bad luck and hope you lose money'.

"I blushed with embarrassment!"